Small in Size, Big on Power: Leveraging Mini PCs for Robotic Applications

January 2023

The world of robotics is constantly evolving and advancing with new technologies and applications emerging all the time. One area in which significant progress has been made is in the development of leveraging small form factor computing devices, such as Intel NUCs (Next Unit of Computing) to power robotic applications. These computing devices offer a high degree of power and performance in a compact package, making them an optimal choice for a wide range of robotics operations. From drones and mobile robots to large industrial machines, the size and computational power of these devices allows them to be easily integrated into a wide variety of platforms.

Due to the advanced computing power and real-time processing capabilities that mini PCs possess, they can be used to perform tasks such as image and video processing, machine learning, object recognition, obstacle detection, motion planning, and much more. Furthermore, customization options and low power consumption make them adaptable to different robotic projects, environments, and demands. These devices have become a popular choice for powering custom robotic systems for many reasons that we’ll cover in this blog article.

Powerful Performance in a Compact Design 

One of the main advantages of using Intel NUCs or mini PCs for robotics is their small size. Robotics applications often require a high degree of mobility, and the compact form factor of these devices allows them to be easily integrated into a wide variety of robotic platforms. This includes everything from mobile robots used in warehouses and distribution centers to robots being leveraged in medical and surgical settings.  

Mini PCs are most commonly based on powerful Intel or AMD processors, which provides the computational power needed to run advanced robotics algorithms. Given their powerful computing abilities, mini PCs are optimal for tasks such as image and video processing, machine learning, and other computationally intensive tasks. Depending on the specifics of the application, motherboards can also be a great choice for robotic projects that are expected to evolve and expand over time.

Full Customization & Modularity

In addition to their small size and powerful performance, Intel NUCs and mini PCs can be highly customizable. Depending on where you purchase from, they are available in a wide range of configurations, including different types of processors, memory, and storage options, which allow them to be tailored to the needs of the specific application. Mini PCs also support a variety of operating systems and software frameworks, including Windows, Linux, or Android. The ability to select your operating system allows you to easily integrate your device into existing robotics ecosystems and grants developers the ability to leverage a wide range of existing tools and libraries.

Given the modular design of mini PCs, you can upgrade the storage, memory, and processing power with new components making them adaptable to changing requirements, as the project’s requirements evolve.

Furthermore, Intel NUCs and mini PCs are relatively low-power devices, which make them ideal for use in battery-powered or energy-sensitive applications. This is especially important for mobile robots, which often rely on battery power and need to be energy-efficient to maximize their operational time.

Processing & Connectivity

One of the key benefits of using mini PCs in robotics applications is their ability to handle real-time processing. Robotics often require real-time processing of sensor data, such as video and LiDAR (light detection and ranging) data, to make quick and accurate decisions. With their powerful processors and fast memory, mini PCs are able to handle real-time processing with ease making them well-suited for tasks such as obstacle detection, object recognition, and motion planning.

Mini PCs are also able to connect to a wide range of sensors and actuators. Robotics applications often require the use of various types of sensors, such as cameras, LiDAR, and IMUs (inertial measurement units), as well as actuators, such as motors and servos. Mini PCs have multiple USB, Ethernet, serial, or other ports, making it easy to connect to a wide range of sensors and actuators allowing for easy integration and control of various robotic subsystems.

Cost Efficiency

Finally, the cost-effectiveness of these devices is worth mentioning. Compared to highly customized more traditional embedded systems, mini PCs, which are mass produced, offer a much more cost-effective computing solution. They are generally less expensive, while providing similar or better compute performance and functionality. This makes them an attractive option for both hobbyists and professionals building robotics projects on a budget.

In conclusion, mini PCs are an excellent choice for use in robotics applications due to their small size, powerful performance, customization, and low-power consumption. Based on their compact design, small form factor PCs allow for a high degree of mobility and flexibility, making them an ideal choice for a wide range of robotics projects, from small hobbyist projects to large-scale industrial applications. Get in touch with us today and discover the right mini PC for you and your needs.

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Simply NUC, Inc. is a systems integrator specializing in mini computers. Simply NUC provides fully configured, warranted, and supported mini PC systems to businesses and consumers, as well as end-to-end NUC project development, custom operating system installations, and NUC accessories.

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